For 47 minutes and three seconds, neither the Garaway Pirates nor the Ridgewood Generals could locate the end zone in their Inter-Valley Conference battle Friday, Oct. 2 on The Hill in Sugarcreek.
But as regulation time wound down, Generals head coach John Slusser broke out the old razzle-dazzle, and razzle-dazzled his team’s way into a 7-0 victory that improved the Generals to 5-1, and kept them undefeated in the IVC.
The play that broke the hearts of the Pirates and their faithful was a double-reverse toss to flanker Logan Schroyer, who ran toward the right sideline before righting himself and unleashing an 18-yard scoring strike to a wide open Rayven Davidson, who dove to give Ridgewood the edge with 57 seconds remaining.
“We were driving there just to get into field goal range, “said Slusser, whose team had the wind at its back. “But we have practiced that play all year, and I told the kids we were going to run it against Garaway. I called it in that time, and I don’t even know why, but sometimes you fall backward into luck.”
But it wasn’t as though Ridgewood had an easy time of those final 57 seconds. A lengthy return on the kick-off by Quinn Miller and a face masking call at the end of the play set the Pirates up at the 50.
R.J. Jacobs scrambled to the 35 of Ridgewood, which set the stage for several cracks at tying the game. However, Jacobs could not connect with wideout Ty Hamsher, who had beaten his man and had a clean path to the end zone would he have been able to haul in Jacob’s pass, which was just off of Hamsher’s back shoulder. Jacobs’ attempt to hit Miller on third and 10 was short, and Miller was unable to come up with a sliding catch, and the Pirates’ last hope on a pass over the middle was knocked down, securing the win for Ridgewood.
With the wind and rain and cold temperatures making it tough for either team to throw the ball, the game plan to go to ground and pound mode actually fit well with what the Pirates wanted to do.
“We wanted to pound the ball on the ground and shorten the game, and we executed perfectly,” said Garaway coach Jason Wallick. “Unfortunately we couldn’t get in the end zone.”
Facing a tough, physical opponent, Wallick wanted to shorten the game against one of the IVC’s best, and foregoing its normal pass-heavy game and try to grind out yards on the turf.
While the ground game wasn’t hugely successful for the Pirates, who ran 30 times for just 94 yards for a 3.1 yards per carry effort, it did shorten the clock, and Garaway’s defense did a remarkable job of limiting the Ridgewood running game too. Ridgewood rushed the ball 37 times and gained 157 yards on the ground, but when it had to toughen up, Garaway’s defense came through, with a little help from Ridgewood, which suffered through eight key penalties for 76 yards and dropped five of Jhett Slusser’s nine passes.
“We kept having penalty, after penalty, after penalty, “said John Slusser. “It bordered on ridiculous. And we struggled to hold on to the ball with dropped passes. But I give our kids all the credit in the world because they found a way to win in the end.”
Most of the game took place between the 20s, but the Pirates actually had a grand opportunity skip away with just over five minute left in the game, when it drove down to the Ridgewood 22 but could get no further, giving up the ball on downs.
Both coaches praised their defenses, and Slusser said the coaching staff was prepared for a host of possible Garaway attacks on offense, the running game included.
What the Generals did do a great job of was eliminating the jail breaks and middle screens the Pirates have become so good at.
“I am more proud of these guys tonight than I was in either our two victories,” said Wallick. “We talked about growing up and finding some leaders, and playing together, and we did. These guys executed the game plan perfectly, and you can’t fault them for their effort tonight. I am a sore loser, but these kids fought hard, and this is what we have expected out of them all year. Unfortunately it took us six games to understand that.”
Slusser was equally impressed with his team, which has been on a role since getting a wake-up call at Waynedale in week two in a contest in which they were pounded.
“We had a little soul-to-soul heartfelt talk after that game, and ever since then we have been playing great football, “said Slusser. “We had to battle a lot of demons tonight playing at a place where we haven’t won a lot. I am so proud of the way these kids came in here and responded to this challenge.”
The win makes Ridgewood 5-1 and undefeated at 3-0 in the IVC, while the Pirates fall to 2-4, posting a 1-2 mark in league play.
FROM THE SIDELINE
“A loss is a loss, but tonight we gave ourselves a chance to win a game we weren’t supposed to win.” — Garaway coach Jason Wallick
“We grew up tonight, and the future looks bright if we continue to grow and develop and learn.” — Jason Wallick
“I’m excited for our kids. This is a team that at the beginning of the year nobody though was any good. Nobody talked about us, and they have proven everybody wrong by coming out and figuring out how to win.” — Ridgewood coach John Slusser
“We don’t have a superstar player, we just have good players, and this was a real team win.” ¬ John Slusser
“Corey Stress, a freshman, stepped up and played very well for us on defense. He was all over the field.” — Jason Wallick
“Garaway is not only a great program, and a great rival for us, bur they are also the classiest team around.” — John Slusser
The Big Ado About Something
Mid way through the third quarter, the game, which had flwon along, came to a grinding halt. Ridgewood had the ball at the Garaway seven, trying to punch in a score. After a holding penalty took them back to the 17, Slusser dropped back and was pressure by big Joel Honigford. As Honigford bore down on Slusser, he got a big paw up and tipped Slusser’s pass, which ended up being well behind the line of scrimmage.
Initially, officials whistled Garaway for defensive pass interference, but as Wallick complained that the ball was tipped and interference can not take place after that happens, the officiating crew changed the call to defensive holding. Wallick countered that there can be no defensive holding on a pass play behind the line of scrimmage, where the fray took place.
Then came the search for a rule book, Wallick not letting this key call go.
“I’ve got to stick up for my guys and fight for them any way I can, and I felt that was the incorrect call to make,” said Wallick.
Ten minutes and one rule book later, officals remained steadfast with their call of defensive holding. Only the ball was placed at the 18-yard line and the down marker moved from first to second. Usually defensive holding brings with it an automatic first down, but that was not the case here, so there was plenty of confusion on the field, sidelines and stands.
Once play finally resumed, Ridgewood got the ball to the 10 yard line, but the ensuing field goal attempt into a stiff breeze sailed wide left, so the point actually became moot.